Mason-Dixon Council History

Mason-Dixon Council, Boy Scouts of America

A Brief History of the Council & Its Predecessors

Washington County Council

The Boy Scout movement officially begun in Washington County, Maryland with the organization of the local council on August 1, 1927; however, scouting existed in the area for many years prior to that date through the efforts of individuals who had studied the scouting program and organized troops in their neighborhoods. Groups of boys at that time were called patrols.

Reverend M. F. Petzold, Pastor of the Methodist Church of Williamsport, MD, was one of the first Scoutmasters in the county. A newspaper article from May 6, 1914 indicated the group did not have a unit number. Reverend Petzold was Scoutmaster until he left in 1916 to enter the U. S. Navy as Chaplain for the impending World War I. Captain George L. Fisher, who was connected with the Militia and National Guard, was another of the first Scoutmasters in Hagerstown, MD. C. I. Wolfinger was a Scoutmaster at Smithsburg, MD and Rev. James D. Webster was a Scoutmaster at Hancock, MD in the early days.

In 1922, the Williamsport Patrol filed the paperwork to become affiliated with the Baltimore Council, based in Baltimore, MD. The paperwork was finalized and the charter was issued August 2, 1922. It was at this time that the patrol of Boy Scouts from Williamsport was referred to as Troop 1, Williamsport. The original charter indicates that the charge to register the Troop was $12.50. This was the first Troop in Washington County to be affiliated with any council. It was not uncommon at that time for a Scout Troop to be active, but unchartered.

In August of 1927, the Washington County Council was formed from 12 Scout Troops sponsored by Hagerstown churches and service clubs. Paul Shields was the first paid Scout Executive, serving from 1927 to 1929. The first Council President was John B. Ferguson, head of a local engineering company, serving from 1927 to 1938. Major General Joseph W. Byron served as Council Vice President from 1927 to 1931. At the time of his death in 1951, he was Chairman of Region Three. L. Vinton Hershey succeeded John B. Ferguson as the second Council President in 1938.

When the Council was formed, the original 12 Troops were assigned troop numbers 1 through 12. Troop 1 of Williamsport joined the Washington County Council in 1929, leaving its prior affiliation with the distant Baltimore Council. Troop 1 from Williamsport was just one of the Troop 1s that existed in the Council (being Troop 1 of Williamsport, Troop 1 of Hancock, Troop 1 of Funkstown, Troop 1 of the Knights of Columbus of Hagerstown, and Troop 1 of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Hagerstown. It is unclear if the two Troop 1s of Hagerstown were actually the same troop.) The Council finally streamlined its numbering process around 1935 with at least 20 troops existing at that time to insure that only one troop is assigned to a particular number. Therefore, the original troops in the Council were allowed to keep their numbers. Apparently, Troop 1 of Williamsport was the fifth Troop to join from outside Hagerstown. Therefore, Troop 1 of Williamsport became Troop 17 of the Washington County Council, and the Troop 1 of St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Hagerstown was able to keep the distinction of Troop 1 of the Council.

The earliest known photograph of Boy Scouts in the Council taken at a Jamboree on October 19, 1928. Photograph in the Mason-Dixon Council Scout Service Center.

Washington Area Council

In 1937, the areas called Tuscarora District (southern Franklin County, Pennsylvania) and Great Cove District (Fulton County, Pennsylvania) were joined to the Washington County Council and the name was changed to the Washington Area Council, although the council was still headquartered in Hagerstown, MD. By this time some of the council’s original leadership was continuing their service to Scouts outside of the council.

Mason-Dixon Council

Because of the addition of the Districts in Pennsylvania, on January 17, 1956 the Council Executive Board voted to change the council’s name to the Mason-Dixon Council since the Council now covered both sides of the historic state line. Among the troops that remained from the original Washington County Council were Troop 1 of St. Mary's Catholic Church, Troop 2 of Otterbein United Methodist Church, Troop 4 of St. Paul's Methodist Church, Troop 5 of Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown, Troop 17 of Williamsport, MD and Troop 20 of Boonsboro, MD. Troop 17 with its start in 1914 is additionally the oldest continuously chartered Troop in the state of Maryland.

The first council office was located at 27 N. Jonathan St in downtown Hagerstown, where a fire destroyed many original records and pictures of early days. A later site for the headquarters was 801 Pennsylvania Avenue. On September 15, 1968 the council office moved to its current location at 18600 Crestwood Drive. The property was donated by Mack Truck Inc. The Mason-Dixon Council has always been a leader in national scouting programs. There is a history of Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, Explorer Posts, Sea Scout Ships, Air Scout Squadron, and now Venture Scouts all supported by the Mason-Dixon Council. In 1968, it was the first council to elect a woman to its Executive Board. The council was also the first to elect an Eagle Scout as Boy Representative to the Executive Committee with full membership and voting privileges, and the first to send a girl Explorer Scout from the east to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

In 2009, Mason-Dixon Council qualified as a Centennial Quality Council. The goals set included (1) Have at least 60% of the units achieve Centennial Quality status (2) Organize 8 new units in 2009 (3) Achieve a 1% growth in traditional membership (4) Increase the retention rate of traditional youth to 72% (5) Achieve a balanced operating budget (6) Retain 90% of the units in the council (7) Increase our commissioner service to the units (8) Add 5 new District Committee members and increase the overall number of District Committee members (9) Maintain approved staff size (10) Add two new endowment gifts to the council's endowment fund. The Council Key 3 and the Executive Board approved all these challenging goals and with hard work from all the Council we were able to achieve each and every one in 2009.

The Silver Antelope Award created in 1942 and first issued in 1943 as the regional-level distinguished service award of the Boy Scouts of America and recognizes outstanding service to young people in the four regions of the BSA. The Mason-Dixon Council has provided six Scouters so dedicated to youth that they have been recognized with the Silver Antelope. In 1946 L. Vinton Hershey was honored. In 1948, Major General Joseph W, Byron was honored. The year 1962 saw Harold M. Porter recognized. In 1975 and 1976, John J. Costa and Merle S. Elliot respectively were rewarded for their service. In 2008, Earl Blair became our latest recipient of the Silver Antelope. With leadership from Scouters such as these, the Mason-Dixon Council will continue to excel in to the future.